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Is sexiness key to social business?

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Social business has a lot to say around hierarchies and ways of structuring our organizations.  Whether it’s flattening the decision making process or improving the flow of information, there is much about a social business that involves the removal of hierarchy.  I’ve written previously about Geert Hofstede’s power index, whereby he explores the susceptibility of certain cultures to that kind of thinking, as opposed to those cultures that are more behooved towards hierarchy.

Whilst Hofstede explored things from a rounded perspective, a new study from Stanford has looked at something rather more fundamental to ourselves as human beings – how we look.  The study set out to explore whether our perceptions about how we look affect our feelings towards inequality and hierarchy.  The researchers believed that beauty is not just a cultural obsession, but something we use to identify and place us in the social hierarchy.

With studies suggesting that we use looks to sort ourselves into low and high rank, the researchers explored whether this migrates to perceptions about hierarchy, due to the relationship between high social rank and support for inequality and hierarchy.

The first study saw participants surveyed to ascertain their perceived physical attractiveness, their perceived social class and their thoughts on hierarchy.  The results showed that perceived attractiveness and social class largely mirrored one another.  Interestingly however, this also translated into support for hierarchy and support for ideologies that support their ‘natural’ position at the top of the pile.

In order to align causation with correlation, the researchers conducted a second study.  In this study, the researchers attempted to manipulate the perceived attractiveness of participants, to witness the impact this would have both on their perceived social standing and support for hierarchy.

The results ran true to form, with the perceived attractiveness of each participant aligning itself with their perceived social status.  What’s more, there was also a direct link between perceived attractiveness and the level of power they enjoyed and felt they deserved, with a strong show of support for hierarchies that would allow them to exhibit their power over those with lower status.

Further studies showed a similar correlation between attractiveness and support for inequality.  Beautiful people were shown not only to be more supportive of inequalities in society, but were significantly less supportive of organizations aiming to reduce inequalities.  To cap it off, the researchers went as far as to suggest that beautiful people showed less empathy and integrity than their plain looking peers.

“The present research showed that even a subtle and seemingly unrelated factor could affect people’s attitudes toward inequality and social hierarchies. If what we see in the mirror after we wake up in the morning can affect our attitudes and beliefs about how the world should be, then society’s cultural preoccupation with physical appearance may have more far-reaching consequences than were previously imagined.” the researchers say.

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